Catholic order releases names of Hi-Line priests with “credible” claims of abuse

(Havre Herald)  HAVRE – The  West Province of the Jesuits, a Catholic order of priests, has released the names of priests who once served on the Hi-Line and have “credible claims of sexual abuse of a minor” lodged against them.

All of the priests are now deceased.

The Jesuits once staffed Catholic parishes in Havre, Harlem and Hays.

The abuse cases are part of an increasing number of clerical abuse allegations and subsequent cover-up charges in the Catholic church.

The Jesuits west province released a list of 92 alleged abusers who served in what is now the west province, including the Hi-Line cases. The west province was formed when the old Oregon province — which included Montana — and the California province were merged in 2017 after the Oregon province declared bankruptcy. The Oregon province was overwhelmed by financial burdens brought on by lawsuits filed by survivors of sex abuse.

Survivors groups say that every province of the order has had allegations of abuse, but none as many as the west province.

“Thankfully, sixteen years after shocking cases of clergy sexual abuse were brought to light in Boston in 2002, there has been significant reform in how the Church and religious orders like ours handle claims of sexual abuse,” the Jesuits said in a statement that accompanied the list of names.

The order said it has “zero tolerance for sex abuse” today.

In the statement, the Jesuits said that just because the priests had “credible claims” did not mean they were guilty.

The order said that in many cases the allegations weren’t made until years after they were committed and often not until the alleged offenders were dead.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) says that the Jesuits often used Indian reservations as “dumping grounds” for abuser priests. There were several priests assigned to St. Paul’s Mission at Hays, which is on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.

Other abusive priests were sent to the Cardinal Bea House on the Jesuit-run Gonzaga University. The last one left in 2016.

St. Jude Thaddeus Church in Havre was founded by the Jesuits who continued to serve the church for many decades until diocesan priests took over.

The Jesuits served Fort Belknap for 138 years. The last Jesuit left St. Paul’s Mission in 2015.

Allegations of sex abuse are not limited to Jesuits. The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings declared bankruptcy when it was unable to pay victims of abuse.

The list provided by the Jesuits includes information on where the alleged abusive priests served but does not detail when or where the alleged abuse took place or when it was reported.

The list includes:

— Joseph Balfe served at St. Jude’s 1953 to 1957. The alleged abuse took place before and after he was in Havre. He died in 1969.

— Arnold Custer served at St.Paul’s 1944 to 1945 and 1962 to 1966. He was at St. Thomas’ Church in Harlem 1950 to 1952. The alleged abuse took place 1953 to 1959, but wasn’t reported until 1969, the year of his death.

— Patrick Savage was at St. Paul‘s Mission 1925 to 1927 and at St. Jude’s 1939  to 1941. He died in 1965.

— Frederick Simoneau was at St. Paul’s Mission 1947 to 1956 and again 1969 to 1977. He was at St. Jude’s 1977 to 1984. He died in 1984.

— Augustine Dimier was at St. Paul’s Mission 1914 to 1920. He died in 1920.

— John Ryan was at St. Paul’s Mission 1963 to 1986. He died in 1986.

— John Joseph Brown served at St. Paul’s Mission 1967 to 1970. He died in 1987.

— John Harrington was at St. Jude’s 1975 to 1994. He died in 2004. The abuse allegedly took place in 1975 but was not reported until 2009.

— John Kohlman was at St. Paul’s Mission 1951 to 1962. He died in 1972 and the case was reported in 2009.

— Bernard McMeel was at St. Paul’s Mission 1975 to 1994. He died in 1994. The alleged abuse was first reported in 1975.

— Gabriel Menager was at St. Jude’s 1930 to 1933 and 1935 to 1936 and at St. Paul’s Mission 1945 to 1946. The abuse was reported in 2008, long after his death.

— Richard Pauson was at St. Paul’s Mission 1959 to 1960. He died in 1971. The alleged abuse was reported in 2008.

— Sylvester Penna was at St. Jude’s 1953 to 1960 and again1967 to 1968. The alleged abuse happened 1951 to 1957. It was not reported until 2009.

— Edmund Robinson was at St. Paul’s Mission 1956 to 1958, 1959 to 1962 and 1967 to 1968. He was later at St. Jude’s, 1986 to 1987. He died in 2014. The abuse took place during his time at St. Paul’s but was not reported until 2008.

— Rene Gallant was at St. Paul’s Mission 1929 to 1933. The abuse is alleged to have taken place long after he left Hays. He died in 1975. The case was reported in 2009.

— Francis Duffy was at St. Paul’s Mission 1938 to 1939. The allegations involved incidents from 1949 to 1978. He died in 1992. The incidents were reported in 2002.

The order encourages anyone who has felt victimized by a Jesuit to contact both Mary Pat Panighetti, advocacy coordinator for Jesuits West, at (408) 893-8398, and appropriate law enforcement and child protective agencies.